Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dysfunction takes to the Road

A recent thread on the Children of Hoarders forum made me think of this vignette from my memoir, Nice Children Stolen from Car. Until now, I thought my siblings and I were the only ones whose father or mother popped in unexpectedly on near-strangers. I call this one:

Sunday Drive
copyright Barbara Allen 2009

On Sunday afternoons during the fall, our father watches football. At least that's what he calls it. Immediately after church, he puts on the game, settles into his recliner -which, with all the clutter, has barely enough room to recline- and closes his eyes. To us kids, it looks like he’s sleeping; harsh sounds, which we mistake for snoring, come from his nose or mouth. But when one of us accidentally steps in front of the television, temporarily blocking the screen, his eyes flare open and we realize that we’ve been fooled by his appearance.

“Hey! You make a better door than a window!”

We quickly move out of his line of vision.

On Sunday afternoons during the rest of the year, our father substitutes a real nap for “football watching.” His important deacon duties require him to wake up early, and he needs a nap to recover. He always says that he’s just going to rest his eyes for a few minutes, but those minutes usually stretch into an hour or more.

We don’t mind, though. Really, we wouldn’t mind if he slept for days. Sometimes, when he does finally wake up, he’s even in a pretty good mood. That’s when he likes to take the family on a Sunday drive.

It’s a drive with no plan or set destination. The six of us kids and our mother are crammed into the car and off we go. During the drive, our father makes random stops at the homes of relatives, friends and church acquaintances, with no invitation, no phone call of warning, and often right at dinner time.

Cindy and I are not quite sure how we feel about the Sunday drive. We want to get away from the disorder of our house, but riding around aimlessly in the car with our parents and other siblings feels more like traveling with chaos than escaping it. The drive itself is misery. The car is too hot, too crowded, and we kids have forgotten our good church behavior. We push, we pinch, we argue. We complain in loud voices: we feel car sick, we’re hungry, we have to go to the bathroom. Where are we going and when are we going to get there?

Our father finally stops for an unannounced visit. By this time, we’re like unruly puppies, squirming and tumbling over each other in our desperation to get out of the car. But first we have to wait for our father to go through his visitation ritual. He gets out of the car alone, goes to the door of our unsuspecting friend and rings the doorbell. Sometimes he has to ring it several times before anyone answers. Then, after a brief conversation with the potential drop-in recipient, he heads back to the car.

This is it, the moment we find out whether we’ll be staying to visit or moving on to surprise someone else. If we’re continuing on, our father will simply open the driver’s side door and get in without a word. If we’re staying, he’ll open the back door instead and say, “All right.”

All right! When this is the answer, we kids pour out of the car, swarm down the sidewalk and into the house of our on-the-spot host. Often, however, the person we are visiting will immediately shoo all of us back outside “to play.” This is a disappointment; we prefer to be inside, where the snacks are.

During our visit, our father drops a lot of strong hints about how we would love to stay for dinner. Sometimes we’re invited. Other times, it’s the person we’re visiting who is dropping the hints, saying things like: nice to have you so unexpectedly stop by, but now I have to get dinner on the table for my own family, or it was great seeing all of you, let me walk you to your car.

Every now and then, one of the random homes our father has chosen as a possible candidate for visitation fools us by its appearance. There are cars in the driveway and all the lights are on, but no matter how long our father rings the doorbell, no one ever comes. Just in case their doorbell might be broken, he walks all around the outside of the house, looking in the windows and knocking on the side or back doors.

Eventually, he returns to the car.

“All those lights on and nobody home,” he grumbles, shaking his head as we drive away.

“Must be nice not to have to worry about your electric bill.”

1 comment:

  1. and don't forget before we even leave he had to get mom to cry or else we didn't go anywhere until that happened. weren't those the days it bugs me to this day when our brother was showing up at dinner unannounced but i think he overheard len say something about it.


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